Peter Velisek: Malé Události (Small Events)
Curated by Deborah Loxam-Kohl
Featuring the work of Slocan Valley resident and painter, Peter Velisek, this exhibition presents a selection of paintings from the artist’s prolific body of work of the past fifteen years. Working primarily in oil on canvas, Peter draws inspiration from daily occurrences, capturing the small details that add up to our larger experience of life. Sketching in charcoal, Velisek works from models, photographs, his surroundings or the land itself, then transfers the imagery into paintings. Landscapes, figures and animals permit glimpses into places, relationships or events witnessed or experienced by Velisek in his rural environment or during travels abroad. His delicately drawn lines and saturated colours convey the emotional or psychological mood of the moment and suffuse the work with a humanistic, universal quality.
The first time I came across Peter Velisek’s work was on the back road in Slocan Park. At the far end of the road, there is an old farmhouse that hasn’t been lived in for years. In homage to the original homestead, the old house is maintained and allowed to remain standing. Tacked to its front door is a pencil drawing of the house in its surroundings. It is unknown if someone was living in the house at the time or the artist simply felt compelled to note its unique situation as an abandoned old home sitting forward of the owner’s current dwelling. While visiting other homes in the neighbourhood, I found more drawings, each one hung in the house it represented. Each was drawn from the perspective of standing on the road and looking in at the property, such as one might do if they were enjoying a walk and stopped to ponder the house next door. When I inquired who had done them, I was told about Peter Velisek, a resident of the community some years before. I wondered what he saw in the familiar scenes that inspired him to draw his neighbour’s homes and yards, inadvertently providing glimpses into their lives. Years later I would meet Peter at his new home on the Little Slocan and discover that his ability to see beauty in the ordinary is as integral to who he is as a man, as it is to his work, as an artist.
The pieces exhibited in Malé Události: Small Events depict the many seemingly inconsequential moments one might experience in daily life. There are a few exceptional ones that are indicative of Velisek’s life as a sustenance farmer that few of us are likely to experience first-hand, but alongside these are many familiar happenings. One can see the every-day sight of people engaged in activity or identify one’s self with a solo figure in repose, perhaps contemplating the contents of the day or a recent conversation. Velisek’s work isn’t cluttered with superficial ideas, but addresses, quite eloquently, and in an uncomplicated manner, the heart of the human experience. The beauty of the work lies in its sensitivity and integrity. By maintaining consistency in seeing and honesty of expression, it remains true to itself, to the experiences that gave rise to it. The themes of Velisek’s work – our relationships with one another and to nature – have a universal appeal and are approachable by their proximity to human scale. Many images span the breadth of his travels between his hometown of Pisék in the Czech Republic and his Slocan Valley residence, but in each we are able to identify something of the shared human experience, the small events that make up our days and create meaning in a human life.
Peter Velisek was born in Pίsek, Czechoslovakia in 1948. He studied at the Institute of Technology from 1963-1967 and served two years of compulsory military service in Terezίn from 1967- 1969. After an unsuccessful exam at the School of Fine Arts in Prague, he left the country at age twenty-three and emigrated to Canada. In the thirty years since his arrival, he has resided in the Slocan Valley, living off the land as a largely self-sufficient sustenance farmer. Primarily self-taught, Velisek supplemented his investigations and exercises in emulating the styles of the Masters (attracted to the Expressionists, his stylistic approach evokes Chagall and Kandinsky) with art classes. He studied sculpture and painting at the Kootenay School of the Arts in 1971-72, continuing his inquiries though workshops with David Alexander, John Cooper, Richard Reid and Alf Crossley since. Velisek has had several solo exhibitions in the Kootenays, most recently at the Grand Forks Gallery, and participated in a number of group shows. In 2000, an exhibition of his work was featured at the Prachenske Museum in the Czech Republic.
To produce any kind of art, in any form or render it in any kind of medium, is a daring undertaking. But once we decide to take that “detour” we will get, like in anything else, more confident and slightly arrogant. The sense of responsibility and accountability evaporates to a certain degree, which is needed for our progression. It is like, once we push the boat from a shore into fast current, once we set up the sails, once we wave farewell to the last supply ship, we are encouraged by the discovery, the experience, the suffering that we are confident to overcome. We might perish or we might come back to talk about the discovery that made us broader, more resilient, that we can pass on to others. We leave behind the rational and let ourselves be led by intuition, and if we don’t perish, we will know by then that our intuition was right and we were right. And then we have our arrogance by the neck, or at least on a short chain.